The Iowa Democratic Party (IDP) released a report on Dec. 12 that said late technology demands from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) were largely to blame for the confusion and delays that dominated the start of the caucuses earlier this year.
The report (pdf), released during a Saturday meeting of the IDP State Central Committee, was commissioned shortly after the Feb. 3 caucuses and was conducted by a group of independent lawyers. It examined dozens of interviews and thousands of documents.
February’s Democratic caucuses in the state were marred by tabulation errors and technical glitches, meaning results were delayed for days at the beginning of the nomination race.
The IDP certified Pete Buttigieg as the caucus winner weeks after caucus night over Bernie Sanders, after The Associated Press reported irregularities and potential errors delaying the declarations of a victor.
The report outlines a number of errors by the DNC and IDP, with a focus on the reporting app that was used to tally the results. The app was built by tech company Shadow.
It largely criticizes the DNC’s involvement in delaying the app’s development, and its late demands for additional technology that ultimately failed. The reporting app failed to work in a number of precincts, and several areas experienced reporting issues, meaning that the IDP was not able to call a winner on caucus night. The app wasn’t rolled out to users until Jan. 18, just two weeks before the caucuses.
“Without the DNC’s intervention in that process, the IDP may have reported results in real-time as it intended,” the report said.
Just weeks before the caucuses, the DNC demanded that a conversion tool also be built by Shadow to allow the committee to access raw numbers in real-time, as it feared the new app would miscalculate results, according to the report. This resulted in a number of problems because Shadow’s reporting app and DNC’s data system used a different database format.
“Attempting to graft an entirely new software element onto the back-end reporting system at the proverbial eleventh hour is likely always going to be problematic, and it was ultimately the cause of a major problem on caucus night,” the report said. “Furthermore, the IDP was not involved in the development of this tool. The IDP simply permitted the DNC to direct the IDP’s vendor.”
The report states that the app never malfunctioned nor was it hacked. However, the conversion tool had coding errors that contributed to the confusion at the formal start of the caucus due to inaccurate figures.
“When the DNC’s database conversion tool failed to work correctly, it caused the DNC to wrongly stop the IDP from reporting its results, and the IDP’s entire planned reporting process was thrown into disarray,” the report said. “The DNC’s interjection was the catalyst for the resulting chaos in the boiler room and in the IDP’s attempts to manually collect and confirm caucus results by hand.
“If the DNC had not interjected itself into the results reporting process based on its erroneous data conversion, caucus night could conceivably have proceeded according to the IDP’s initial plan,” the report added.
The DNC on Saturday said that a quality control system was needed, and that its request was “validated by numerous press reports which found ‘errors and inconsistencies’ in the initial caucus results. The underlying technical problems were caused by errors from the IDP’s vendor.”
The DNC declined to be interviewed by auditors, according to the report, however, the organization told The Hill that the body overseeing the report declined DNC offers to provide written answers to questions.
“This cycle, the reforms Democrats made to our presidential nominating process helped increase voter participation, provide transparency, and ensured that our nominee entered the general election with the full unity and support of the party, which ultimately led us to victory,” DNC spokesman David Bergstein told the publication.
“Every four years, the DNC looks back at what worked and what didn’t work, and the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee will continue to evaluate all areas of our nominating process and make recommendations for any changes,” Bergstein added.
The report also highlighted missteps from the IDP, including insufficient manpower on caucus night to handle the volume of incoming calls, and for failing to sufficiently communicate with the public and the press about the reporting app. It also found that the IDP failed to have an an effective back-up system in place.
“As of the Friday before the caucuses, the IDP knew there were only approximately 400 temporary precinct chairs (out of more than 1,700) who had successfully downloaded and accessed the app,” the report said. “The IDP should have taken aggressive steps to scale up its telephone back-up reporting system at that time.”
“The findings of this independent, detailed review of what happened during the 2020 caucuses should speak for itself. In the interest of clarity and public reassurance, the IDP commissioned this self-critical report to help guide conversations as we move forward,” IDP Chairman Mark Smith said in a statement Saturday.
“It is deeply unfortunate that technical setbacks overshadowed the selfless work of thousands of volunteers who were committed to making the 2020 caucuses a success. The most important thing for us to do now is to heed these lessons, listen to each other’s ideas, and work together to move forward,” Smith added.